Western Gailes Golf Club is wedged between Irvine Bay and the railway tracks on one of Ayrshire’s narrowest strips of links land. Western and its next-door neighbour, Glasgow Gailes, are the northernmost of the exceptional links courses located on this prodigious stretch of Ayrshire coastline.
Four Glaswegians who were fed up with playing on muddy parkland founded the club in 1897. They recruited the first keeper of the greens, Mr. F. Morris, to lay out the course on land leased from the Duke of Portland. Western Gailes is listed in the catalogue of Simpson & Company Golf Architects, but we don't know what work Tom Simpson may have carried out prior to Fred W. Hawtree developing four new holes in the mid 1970s to accomodate a new road.
Western is an unusual layout in that the clubhouse is more or less centrally located. The first four holes head north, parallel to the railway tracks. The next nine holes head straight back along the coastline in a southerly direction, passing the clubhouse along the way, and then the closing five holes head northwards, back towards the clubhouse and once more along the railway line.
Whilst the layout, as we have already mentioned, is unusual but ostensibly nine out and nine back, the holes are wonderfully varied. The fairways undulate gently, interrupted occasionally by three meandering burns that dissect this thin strip of land. The greens sites are cleverly located in naturally folded ground; some are protected by burns whilst others, like the 6th, are in hollows guarded by sand dunes. All the greens are fast, firm and subtly contoured. The 14th hole, a wonderful par five which often plays downwind, provides a huge temptation for big hitters, but numerous bunkers lie in wait.
Be prepared for a westerly wind that can be undeniably ferocious and cunning as it switches direction from south-westerly to north-westerly. On occasions it can be soul-destroying. Western Gailes is a suitably fitting name for this golf course.
Western is a very stiff golfing test – expect to use every club in the bag. The layout measures 6,714 yards from the back tees and Western has hosted a number of important events, including the 1972 Curtis Cup, narrowly won by the USA and the 1964 PGA Championship, won by AG Grubb. Additionally, the course is used for final qualifying when the Open is played at Troon or Turnberry.
Architect Tom Mackenzie sent us this exclusive quote in August 2020 regarding the work his firm was undertaking at Western Gailes:
“Mackenzie & Ebert’s work focuses on the bunkering with drive bunkers re-sited and re-styled to make them less severe but more visually stimulating. Tee positions are being adjusted with forward tees being added on some holes to make the carries more consistent in different wind conditions.
Some green surround reshaping is being undertaken on holes such as the 5th, 9th and 18th. The first phase was completed in early 2020 with a second phase completing the bunker work in the autumn of 2020. Further phases may well follow. This makes the course more forgiving for the shortest players and more challenging for the better players.”
What a golf course! The track is splendid. A briliant variety of holes with a stunning coastal location. The fact that i played it with a reasonnable wind on a beautiful sunny day made it easy for sure.
To me Western Gailes is the n°3 course you must play in the area after Turnberry & Troon. Definitely a must play.
Interesting that you've put Western Gailes as the no.3 must-play course in the area. I've heard from a few people that it's a more enjoyable course than Troon. Apart from Troon being an Open venue, is there anything else that gives it the edge over WG? I've not played either so I'm keen to hear opinions on the subject.
I rank it as the n°3 course because i have been more impressed with the general quality of the old course at Troon.
According to me the course set up was better at Troon.
I also have to say that :
1 - I have always thought i would enjoy Western Gailes but i was not sure about Troon so the surprise is bigger.
2 - The staff has been lot more welcoming in Troon
3 - Both rounds were free. I must say that Western Gailes is probably a better value.
I hope this answers your questions :)
I first played here in 1993, returned in 1995 and then had a long absence until a recent visit. In 1993 Western Gailes was the hidden gem of Scotland and finding a tee time was fairly easy. That is no longer the case as it was discovered a long time ago as one of the best and most natural links golf courses in Scotland, if not the world.
It is as natural a setting as one would find on a golf course, with the course seemingly carved and constructed more by nature than by man.
I find it to be a very challenging golf course, requiring decision making as well as skill in order to play near one's index. I would love to see an Open or a major tournament played here by the top pros. Without wind, I would expect a 4 day score of 25-27 under par due to the lack of length but with wind the winning score could be 10 under. But alas, given its location, the train line, and lack of suitable infrastructure that will likely never happen without closing the train line and using land from nearby courses.
As for the golf course, it is splendid. I really enjoy the counter clockwise routing of four holes out, nine holes in an opposite direction along the sea, and five holes coming back to the clubhouse.
In reading the other reviews I note that some lament that there are only two par 5's and only three par 3's. There is also a bit of commentary about holes 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 all being of a similar dogleg shape with the tee shot away from the beach but the approach shot back at the beach. The final critique is that the finishing holes are not nearly as good as what has come before it.
There is some validity to those comments if one wanted a more balanced scorecard. However, the holes that are there are expertly laid out and so natural while varying the green complexes that I find it difficult to want to change it.
The starting four holes are somewhat gentle but I really like the shape of the 2nd hole as well as the approach into the second green will the mounding to the right and the fall off. The third hole presents a narrow opening to the tee on this short par four if you navigate the fairway bunkers. Do not go long over the green as taller grass awaits.
The fourth hole, another short par 4, has two raised pot bunkers on opposite sides of the fairway and another five bunkers to defend the hole.
The long par four 5th hole is a gem and is well defended by three large and deep bunkers fronting the green.
I note in the reviews that many think the 6th hole, a short par five is the class of the golf course due to the tumbling fairway and the "tucked-in" nature of the green setting. It is very good.
But for me, the class of Western Gailes is the 180 yard par 3 7th hole, along the sea with great views and sheltered into the dunes with five bunkers surrounding the green and a nasty, somewhat hidden one up on the left in the dunes.
The short 8th par 4 brings a burn into play and deep bunkers around the green. It is a gem.
The 9th, another short par 4 is another gem with the green having bunkers on the ridge line to a hidden green that is once again surrounded by bunkers. It is a lovely golf hole.
The 10th hole ends the short par fours and once again the burn is in play fronting the green.
The 11th is a long par 4 and the unique feature to this dogleg right is that the green feels like another dogleg as the green is situated right of the fairway.
The 12th is another long par 4 but to me not as interesting as the hole before it.
If someone wants to say the short 150 yard par 3 13th is the best par three on the golf course I would not argue. One has to navigate a burn and seven deep bunkers all around the green.
On 14, you now turn back towards the clubhouse on the longest par five on the course. I found this hole to be pretty average with a wide fairway.
15 is a mirror image of 13 except it is longer at 190 yards and does not have the burn in front. It is a terrific, natural looking hole.
16 offers a longer carry for the tee shot to the fairway and the tee is situated next to the rail line. There are five fairway bunkers that pinch the fairway to a smaller size. Big hitters will drive over them. The burn fronts the green but there is sufficient landing room to clear it to this raised green.
17 is a long par 4 that has a dogleg left at the end to a raised green and requires you to clear a ridge line of taller grass to a series of humps and bumps fronting the green. Another fine golf hole.
From the member tee, the finishing hole is simply a question of avoiding the bunkers on the right side of the fairway. There is ample room to the left of them. In the absence of wind, these fairway bunkers are easily driven over by the big hitter. There are seven bunkers as you near the green but two of them are pretty far from the green.
Western Gailes, once the hidden gem, of Scotland, is a delight to play both for the views and for the challenge of the golf course. The green complexes are really good, some due to nature and some due to the placement of the bunkers. And being a member for the day, with the lunch in a very nice clubhouse added as part of the experience, it is a must play.
There is so much good golf on Scotland’s West Coast that Western Gailes sometimes get lost in the crowd, which is a shame because it is such a classic links course, featuring pot bunkers, rippling fairways and a routing through the dunes. The fun begins on the second hole which plays from an elevated tee and the view that is presented to the golfer is one of a heather-strewn dogleg hole with hillocks and grassy banks. The third hole features a hidden putting surface on your approach shot. I really liked the 15th hole, a demanding par three that plays toward the water (I hit driver into the wind). The only drawback the course has is that as you make the turn and come back toward the clubhouse there are too many holes that play in the same direction, and with the wind blowing (and O.B. potentially coming into play) it can grind you down. The historic locker room is a real beauty with its dark woods and warm feel. Personally, I would rather play Western Gailes over nearby Troon if in the area.
Initial impressions after playing any course for the first time can often be influenced by preconceptions. My visit to Western Gailes was no exception. I already knew it would be good, and so it came to pass, but this meant it could struggle to blow me away. Or perhaps it just wouldn’t be that good after all? The course was also too well known to be discovering a hidden gem, and ultimately wasn’t surprising enough vs my expectations to give a feeling of experiencing something truly special.
What you objectively get though is surely a very good links course. Proper firm irregular turf? Check. Sea? Check. Railway line? Check. Dunes? Check. Variety of green sites? Check. And so on. As previous reviewers have mentioned, the early holes head north inland, and it’s the stretch from 5-10 or so which really captures the imagination.
Some of these holes were thrilling and the land over which they traverse is excellent. If I had one criticism though, it would be that too many of these holes felt like teeing off from a tee-box beside the ocean, back inland to a hole that runs back to the sea. This made it feel like several left to right doglegs in a row that play in the same direction, and dare I say it, a little monotony crept in. However, it meant my “power fade” worked a treat.
I think another designer may have been more creative with the exact routing of these seaside holes. And if I can allow myself a second criticism, I would also have squeezed in another Par 3 along this opening stretch to add some more variety in the direction of play. The less spectacular (i.e. inland) holes were perfectly acceptable and even provided some welcome diversity, with obstacles such as burns guarding greens.
Notable holes for me were the Par 5 6th, where I always seemed to be hitting a blind shot with the 4 blows it took to reach the green, and the Par 3 7th with its sheltered green. The 9th was a lovely short par 4 with scattered bunkers guarding the green at varying distances out. The 11th has an interesting approach that disorientated like a distant cousin of Dornoch’s Foxy, and the 17th did something similar, only the other way. On both of these par 4’s I played to the green with my third shot as I wasn’t quite sure where I was going. I also enjoyed the camouflaging/graded central bunkers on the Par 3 15th that must cause issues with club selection.
In 2019 Western Gailes is probably overrated. Nevertheless, it’s a must play course and one I will happily return to. And as long as it has the fairly mundane looking track just down the coast at three times the price, I think Western Gailes will always be a very pleasant surprise for any golfing visitor to Ayrshire
Western Gailes was a delight, I played it as part of the `Gailes Experience' along with the Gailes Links and Dundonald. Western Gailes is a classic links. The clubhouse lies in the middle of a traditional lay out, with nine holes along the coast and nine holes inland, with seven holes to the North of the clubhouse and eleven to the South.
I played the course in late March and we faced a strong wind, blowing off the sea. It was a challenge to make pars but even in the tough conditions we couldn't help but be impressed by the course. In particular I really enjoyed both the 6th and 7th, a par 5 and a par 3 respectively. A real classic and a course that I feel doesn't get the acclaim it deserves, ranked at 14, I could make a strong argument to see it higher in the list.
The course condition was excellent, the greens ran very true. The green and bunker complexes were excellent with some surprising challenges, rewarding the creative short game.
I would not hesitate to play the course again and feel the course more than deserves it's position.
Western Gailes is fantastic. Founded in 1897 it is on a narrow strip of property with the sea to the west and a railroad to the east . The railroad was key to its development as most golfers were originally from Glasgow and they utilized this mode of transportation. Western Gailes hospitality is fantastic. Members for the day receive a warm welcome and clubhouse tour.
The course is laid out in an elliptical manner with the first four holes headed north, the 5th-13th south and seaside and the last five holes paralleling the train tracks heading north back to the clubhouse.
The first hole is a welcoming short par 4. Favor the right side off the tee. The 2nd is much tougher. A 430 yard par 4 dogleg left with bunkers on both corners, resulting in a narrow landing area. The 3rd is a good hole with bunkers right. You should be able to fly them, but this will leave you with a blind approach and bring a nasty bunker into play. Left is better. The 4th is pretty straight forward, except everything rolls right off the tee. Thus, one must be left of center to navigate around the right bunkers. The 5th is the number 1 handicap with a very narrow green, in some places 12 yards. On the approach I would advise hitting an extra club as there are 3 bunkers guarding the front. The 6th, another par 5 is a blind dogleg right. Off the tee aim just right of the clubhouse and on your second let the barber pole be your guide. The 7th is one of my favorite par 3s in Scotland. A tear drop green the front is less than 10 yards wide. It is well protected with 6 bunkers, left is death. The 8th is tricky, one of the few holes with a water a burn runs about 10 yards in front of the green. This green has a sever back to front slope, make sure you hit an extra club if the pin is back. Oh, I almost forgot the 4 greenside bunkers! The 9th is a cool par 4 and definitely a birdie opportunity. You may not want to hit driver, there is more landing area right which also affords a better angle to attack the pin. The 10th is also a birdie opportunity . It also has a burn about 10 yards in front of the green and 4 greenside bunkers. The 11th is a real tough long par 4. Favor the right side of the fairway off the tee. Any approach that lands short will be catapulted left. Good luck. The 12th is another long par 4. To have a chance at reaching the green favor the left side of the fairway. The 13th is a short par 3, but it is effectively an island green. With a burn short and 7 bunkers surrounding the green very difficult to par if you miss the green. The 14th is a long par 5 that typically has the wind at your back as you head back to the clubhouse. The 15th is a 190 yard par 3. The front bunkers create an optical illusion as there is at least 10 yards between them and the front of the green. Moyo declared that he was going to ace this hole. I said that I hoped that he did. I almost stole his thunder as my ball wiggled as it went over the cup. Fortunately, I made the birdie putt. The 16th is a tight driving hole with fairway bunkers on both sides. However, if you are playing the correct tees, they should not be a factor as this is typically downwind. Also, there is ample room between the burn and green, approximately 30 yards. The 17th can be confusing. It is really a dogleg left and while the guide book tells you to aim just left of the clubhouse, don’t. You really need to hug the right side to have a chance. Even with this your discomfort will rise as you are going all kinds of gorse and gunch. Real tough hole. The 18th is a pleasant goodbye hole. The 12 bunkers make it look much tougher than it really is. Aim your tee shot to the right of the starter shack and then go pin seeking!
Western Gailes is a treat and I would pay to play again.
Visited for the first time in years on my annual UK golf trip. Despite very dry summer, very good condition. Warm welcome. Stretch from #5 through 14 among the best in Links golf. Don't miss it. M
Much has been documented about the “unconventional” out and back routing of this course, and let it be known that I am a huge fan of the configuration. The opening four holes in the same outward direction immediately illustrate marvelous green-sites, being concave, convex and wonderfully contoured. When you turn around and stand on the 5th tee box, you enter one of the best three-hole stretches in the UK.
I’ll highlight the ‘all-world’ 6th hole which is a par 5 that tumbles its way over turbulent undulations along the Ayrshire coastline. The green-sites for the par 5 6th and par 3 7th hole will stand-out in your mind as you reflect on the front side. The land across Western Gailes is fairly flat, so in the absence of dunes or notable rises in the land, the placement of hazards such as pots and sneaky water streams will be sure to offer no shortage of challenge. Playing dead into the wind with a burn abutting the front of a green gives players a lot to think about, and turns what appears to be a simple approach shot into a real test. There is a burn meandering across the course which impacts holes on both sides.
The course is situated between the railway and the sea, so typical of the classic Ayrshire links courses, with both being very much in play for the errant golfer. As the back nine navigates its way back towards the clubhouse parallel to the busy railway line, the real jewel is the 17th. The architect, Mr. F Morris, routed the hole across a massive ridge in the land, with a blind and treacherous approach shot that ironically plays towards a big red cross as a landmark – making you say a little prayer before you take the club back.
Western Gailes is a top-notch course, wildly superior to its hugely overrated Royal neighbour down the railway line in Troon.
For me, this is the best 18 holes in the area. There isn't a weak hole and the routing is interesting, challenging and just beautiful. I went out on my own at just after midday on a Tuesday last summer and had the course practically to myself. The opening stretch might look a bit dull on the scorecard with four short-ish par fours, but they are challenging and you really have to think your way around - I particularly loved the view from the fourth tee with the hole stretching out in front of you. I actually started out at -1 through four before turning back into the wind. The 5th is a really tough hole and I found the par 5 6th hole a stunner with its secret green. The par 3 7th is another class hole with the wind making the tee shot a real challenge. More tough par fours follow around the turn and there is little real let-up. The finishing stretch is tough but a score is definitely makeable, with the approach to the 17th able to make or break a good finish.
Simply put, this is a golf course where you just get immersed early on and then enjoy the ride. It was four hours of pure pleasure and I cannot wait to go back - it's a real golfer's course that should not be missed. If you're in the area, make this a must-visit.
Western Gailes is a thing of true beauty. Something extra special. Near perfection at times.
It’s a classy links course that only a fusion of nature and time is able to create and where man merely offers a guiding hand. This is close to being as good as it gets at times.
The 18 holes at the aptly named Western Gailes are hemmed in on a very narrow strip of land between the Firth of Clyde and the famous West Coast railway line. Rolling dunes, rippling sandhills, dips, swales, hollows and dells are all present. Add to this the firm, tight and sandy turf that you play from off the fairways and you have the ultimate combination for exhilarating links golf. The green sites on many of the holes are truly sublime.
Nine holes head in a northerly direction whilst the other nine are played alongside them but run to the south. It’s far from uncommon for a links course to play ‘out and back’ but here the clubhouse is centrally located so you play four to the north then a run of nine to the south before turning back again for the final five. It’s an unusual routing but one I found highly enjoyable.
What makes the long stretch of holes from the 5th to the 13th even more special is that they are played extremely close to the sea and the proximity of the beach certainly adds to the appeal and experience.
Personally I thought holes five to eleven were on a different planet to most other courses. The holes oozed charisma, challenge and produced a blend of golf that I have rarely seen on my travels. The natural green settings and tee positions define this stretch where the golfer is teased and tormented by the undulating ground but comes away feeling rewarded and uplifted. The snaking par five 6th, short 7th, driveable 9th and demanding 11th are pure links heaven.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.